Ezra

The Opposition

The people who had moved into the land were tolerant of the Israelites who returned to rebuild Jerusalem, but once construction began on the Temple, conflict broke out.

In this message, we evaluate why the people of the land opposed the construction of the Temple, and how that correlates to Satan’s opposition to our daily lives today. This chapter illustrates how Satan actively opposes you and tries to sabotage you as you try to live out God’s purpose for your life.

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The Altar (Ezra 3)

It is significant that when the people began to rebuild the Temple in Ezra 3, they began with the building of the altar, because it was the altar that symbolized their redemption and peace with God.

In “The Altar,” we discuss how the altar symbolized redemption, what that entailed, and how we should respond.

Making it big

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For who hath despised the day of small things? for they shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel with those seven; they are the eyes of the Lord, which run to and fro through the whole earth.

-Zechariah 4:10

In today’s age, bigger is better.

College and high school grads entering the workforce flock to the big cities, not only because wages are higher there, but also for the amenities the cities offer. A house in the suburbs that provides a small-safe neighborhood within a short drive of the city’s amenities?

Bleh! Today’s young professionals are actually moving into the inner cities, drawn to the theaters, night life, professional sporting events and concerts.

Then, there are the restaurants, pubs and coffee shops.

Cities draw today’s youth because they are big, and offer a wide array of entertainment options. However, it’s not only the size of the city that draws the young professional, but also the chance that the young professional can himself become big.

One trend today is that the professional will select a city, and then seek employment based on where he wants to live, as opposed to the previous tradition of finding employment then moving to the city where that opportunity exists.

Such as resulted in the rapid growth of Austin, San Antonio, Nashville, Atlanta, Washington DC, and even some cities once considered rust belt relics like Cincinnati and Detroit. It’s why, despite the crowds and cost of living, New York and LA are magnets, and Charlotte, NC continues to draw NASCAR hopefuls.

These cities draw young professionals, because in addition to the amenities they offer, they also become a potential springboard to national acclaim. If you’re a newly graduated CPA who dreams of being a musician, you go to Austin or Nashville.

If you want to make it as a TV journalist, you head to Atlanta. Perhaps you have just graduated law school but want to make it as an R&B producer? Atlanta or LA.

If computers are your thing, Austin or San Jose.

Young professionals flock to these areas because they want to make it big, which means national notoriety or acclaim, if not financial success. Today’s youth have stars in their eyes, programmed by endless messages of how special they are. To the young worker today, moving to the suburbs, accruing a retirement account, raising a family and enjoying career success amounts to failure.

To be a success, one has to make an impact. To be success, you have to revolutionize your industry, invent the next iPhone or Facebook, and everyone has to know your name. That, today, is success. Being “big” is the goal. Financial success and security is secondary.

Yet, it is in the small towns and suburbs where the greatest generation, the generation whose selfless sacrifices laid the foundation for the prosperity we enjoy today, raised up generations, providing them with a stable home, a solid foundation, and the tools to succeed in life. The greatness of 21st Century America can be traced back to the parents of the Baby Boomer generation who forewent being “big” in order to create a better life for the next generation.

Big is exciting. Big is seductive. Big offers adventure. But God never called us to be big.

In Zechariah 4:10, The Lord said, “ For who hath despised the day of small things? for they shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel with those seven; they are the eyes of the Lord, which run to and fro through the whole earth.”

Those words came after the foundation of the Temple was laid in Ezra 3. The people of Jerusalem, having been in captivity for 70 years, were freed to return home and rebuild the Temple. After constructing the altar, they began work on the Temple, laying the foundation first.

When the people of the city saw the foundation, some cheered the progress, while others wept, seeing its small size, and remembering the glory of the former Temple. However, those mourning the new Temple’s small size missed a key point. The very construction of a Temple was proof that God’s hand was moving.

That new Temple would usher in a new era for Jerusalem, and set the stage for the coming of Christ. God promised in Zechariah that Zerubbabel laid the foundation, and that he would finish the Temple, and by that all would know that God was with them.

The Spirit of God was moving, and God would accomplish great things. Those great things would come through the construction of the “small” Temple.

It’s understandable that the people of Ezra’s day would want a big, elaborate Temple. It’s understandable today that people want to make a huge impact to improve their world.

Still, let’s not forget the power of small things. Let’s not forget how God can move in great ways through the selfless acts of fathers, mothers, neighbors, and friends, living in small towns, suburbs, working thankless jobs, while attending small churches.

In Zechariah 4:10, God said, “Who hath despised the day of small things?” One modern translation of this verse says “Who dares to despise the day of small things?”

You are not wasting your life if you are doing what God wants you to do.

The Altar

Jerusalem Reconstruction

Then stood up Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and his brethren the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and his brethren, and builded the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings thereon, as it is written in the law of Moses the man of God. And they set the altar upon his bases; for fear was upon them because of the people of those countries: and they offered burnt offerings thereon unto the Lord, even burnt offerings morning and evening.

-Ezra 2:2-3

It is significant that the first thing built as the Israelites began the Temple reconstruction project was the brazen altar, because it is at the altar that peace is made between God and man.

Peace with God… that’s a rare condition in this world. Many who think they have peace with God really only have a cease-fire. There is a difference between peace with God, and a ceasefire with God. While the ceasefire pauses the obvious signs of a struggle, it lacks the safety and security of true peace.

In the aftermath of World War II, America made peace with Japan. In the years following, the United States worked to rebuild Japan, which went on to become a world economic power, the dream that the emperor had for the country to begin with. In that peace, two opposing sides agreed to stop fighting, to reconcile, to become partners, and both became stronger as a result.

The Korean War ended with a ceasefire. Technically, the two sides are still at war, and neither feels safe or secure at the moment.

Sadly, many people today have opted for a ceasefire with God, electing to tune out the conviction of His word and Spirit, and deadening their spiritual sensors so they can enjoy the life this world offers. Many times, God gives them up, and allows this to happen. The man in this state thinks he has peace with God, but he remains in rebellion against God, and will still face His judgment.

What you really need is peace with God, which only comes through surrender to God. This involves repenting (turning from sin) and faith (trusting the Lord to save you). It’s one monumental decision to trust Jesus Christ as your personal savior. Once that happens, the Bible teaches that you have peace with God through Jesus Christ your Lord (Romans 5:1).

Then, God begins to transform you into the person He intended on you becoming. He builds you, cares for you, and provides for you, giving you a peace and security that does not come through a mere ceasefire. Then, He gives you the eternal blessing of a place in His Kingdom. You become a new person, and all things become new.

So, peace with God, which comes through your conversion to Christ, is of the utmost importance, which is why the people of Ezra’s day built the altar first. The altar is where peace was made with God.

The altar had four horns fashioned on the corners. These horns represented the judgment of God for sin. When a worshiper brought a sacrifice to the altar, that sacrificial lamb was tied to one of those horns.

Now, it is important to remember that the sacrificial lamb was a picture of Christ. Just as the lamb at the Temple was killed to bring peace with God over sin, Jesus Christ was killed to bring us peace with God once and for all. That’s why John the Baptist referred to Jesus as “The Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).”

Back to the Old Testament temple, when this lamb was tied to the horn of judgment, it demonstrated that God’s judgment would be passed from the worshiper to the lamb, just as His judgment was passed from us onto Christ.

Then, the lamb was slain, and his blood was placed upon the horn of the alter, thus the blood of the lamb covered the judgment for sin. The blood of Jesus Christ covers the judgment for our sin.

At that point, the body of the lamb was placed on the altar. In some sacrifices, such as the peace offering, the worshiper would eat part of the cooked meat to signify restored fellowship between him and God.

The death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ restored our fellowship with God.

So, in the reconstruction of the Temple, with the people facing mounting pressure from their enemies, it should come as no surprise that the altar was the first thing to be built. They understood their need to be at peace with God.

Do you?

Offerings

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And some of the chief of the fathers, when they came to the house of the Lord which is at Jerusalem, offered freely for the house of God to set it up in his place: They gave after their ability unto the treasure of the work threescore and one thousand drams of gold, and five thousand pound of silver, and one hundred priests’ garments.

-Ezra 2:68-69

Thirty-nine cents might not seem like a big deal, however, back in 1996, one could supersize their fries and drink at McDonalds for that additional 39 cents.

In the mid-1990s, America was a fast-food nation, but we hadn’t yet become preoccupied with large food portions. Therefore, it often took the suggestive sale of the cashier to get the customer to agree to the 39-cent enhancement of their meal. As a result, it became a standing directive for fast-food order takers to ask customers, “Would you like to supersize that?”

Why would McDonalds build so much strategy into earning an additional 39-cents per customer? Simple.

Quora.com reports that the average McDonalds restaurant serves up to 5,000 customers per day. If each customer were to up-size their meal by 39 cents, then that individual McDonalds would earn an additional $1,950 per day, or $711,750 per year.

Across the entire corporation, McDonalds serves 68 million customers daily. That 39-cent upgrade would earn McDonalds an additional $26.5 million, or $9.6 billion in a year. Back in the 1990s, McDonalds understood that small amounts added up to big things.

It’s a strategy also employed by Texas Dairy Queens, which promote the fact that if all of their drive-thru customers would donate 25-cents per visit, then DQ could donate $5,000 per restaurant to Children’s Miracle Network.

Or, as my sales manager back at KYYK would tell me, “all those nickels and dimes add up.”

In Ezra 2, the Israelites were returning to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple. As they arrived, those that had the ability gave offerings to the Temple. Some were able to give big offerings, others could only give a little. Therefore, “They gave after their ability unto the treasure of the work threescore and one thousand drams of gold, and five thousand pound of silver, and one hundred priests’ garments.”

God took the offerings of the people, and blessed it in a big way, using it to fund the reconstruction of the Temple.

The concept of “giving according to your ability” is a totally scriptural concept. It’s why God set the tithe at 10-percent, and why the Old Testament law ordered giving to be set by the ability of the worshiper to give.

When it comes to giving, there are those who have the ability to give a lot. There are those who can only give a little. However, if you give God something to bless, He has shown the ability to bless it into something big.

In Ezra, they wanted worship restored at the Temple, which needed to be rebuilt. In our time, we want to see revival in our land, and the Gospel spread throughout the world. If we want God to bless that effort, we have to give Him something to bless.

Imagine what God can do.

If McDonalds can turn 39 cents into $9.6 billion, and Dairy Queen turn 25 cents into $5,000, and these being secular organizations, imagine what God can do with the offerings we bring Him. May God bless you, as you bless Him.

So, when you worship God at your church this weekend, don’t forget to bring Him something to bless. One day, you will find out just how big of a difference you made.

The Blessing and the Call

The book of Ezra records the efforts of the first two groups of exiles returning to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple. They were ordered by King Cyrus to take on the reconstruction project.

In looking at the proclamation issued by Cyrus in chapter 1, we see how God blesses us and expects us to use our blessings to further His Kingdom. We also see how God works through the situations in our lives to transform us and reach others with the Gospel. We learn how blessed it is to be used in God’s overall plan.

Furthermore, we see the need for God to spark a revival in our land by stirring the souls of many and calling them into His service.  This is the first part of a 10-part series entitled, “We Build,” being taught on our radio show, The Point, and Sunday mornings at Life Point Baptist Church.

What’s it worth?

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And whosoever remaineth in any place where he sojourneth, let the men of his place help him with silver, and with gold, and with goods, and with beasts, beside the freewill offering for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.

-Ezra 1:4

She stared at the huge chunk of rusted metal that sat on her husband’s flatbed trailer.

“You paid how much for that?” She asked.

“$900,” he replied.

“I wouldn’t have paid 50-cents,” she responded.

Such is the life of a couple where the husband collects classic cars, and the wife knows how to drive a car.

The rusted chunk of metal on the flatbed trailer was one of the first 1964 1/2 Mustangs to roll off of Ford’s assembly line in Detroit. Knowing this, the husband valued the car in its current state at $750, but wound up paying $900 after being bid up at an auction.

Why pay more? Because he knew that, after he sanded the rust, applied primer, painted, reupholstered, and rebuilt the engine and drive train, that newly restored Mustang would be worth at least $20,000 to a collector. You see, the value of anything is determined by what you are willing to pay for it.

In Ezra 1, the Lord stirred the spirit of King Cyrus, who called upon the people of Israel to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple. To finance this project, he ordered the return of the gold and silver vessels taken from the Temple during the Babylonian captivity, and called upon the people to contribute financially to the project. Ezra 1:6 says the people did just that:

 And all they that were about them strengthened their hands with vessels of silver, with gold, with goods, and with beasts, and with precious things, beside all that was willingly offered.

The rebuilding of the Temple was so important to King Cyrus that he gave the gold and silver vessels that were handed down to him from a previous invasion to be used for the Temple. The Bible says there were 5,400 vessels made of precious metal handed over.

While the argument is valid that those vessels belonged to the Lord in the first place, it was still a huge transaction for a pagan king who had not been raised in the faith. Just as God stirred Cyrus to make this contribution, He stirred the hearts of the people to financially donate to the rebuilding of the Temple as well.

From this, we learn that if God has stirred your heart, it will affect your pocketbook. If you have been moved by God’s grace in your life, you will want to see that happen in the lives of others. That will motivate you to financially support ministries that carry out the Gospel.

Whether you give, and how much you give, will be determined by how much you value seeing God move in the lives of others. Again, the value of anything is determined by what you are willing to pay for it.

When we began this post, we noted the difference in value of an old Mustang based on who was looking at it. The wife, who had no interest in classic cars, saw an old hunk of metal, and assessed no value to it. Her car enthusiast husband saw the value of the restored classic, and assessed a higher value to it, and thus was willing to pay more.

In the Spiritual life, there are two types of individuals: those who see the church as a milquetoast institution with a pastor who works two days a week, and those who see the potential lives changed through the missionary efforts of that church. The one who sees the latter will value the church more, and thus will be a more faithful financial supporter.

In which camp do you find yourself today?

Leland Acker has served as the pastor of Life Point Baptist Church since its inception in 2008. Life Point meets for Sunday School at 10 a.m., Sunday Worship at 11 a.m., and meetings are held at the Early Chamber of Commerce/Small Business Incubator Facility at 104 E. Industrial Dr. in Early, TX, pending the construction of a new worship facility.

Who is there among you?

Jerusalem Reconstruction

Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel, (he is the God,) which is in Jerusalem.

-Ezra 1:3

The Persian king Cyrus had no ties to Jerusalem. There was no sentimentality on his part. He had probably never even been to Jerusalem. Yet, when God stirred his spirit, he was moved to rebuild the house of God at Jerusalem.

Knowing that God’s will was to revive Israel, Cyrus understood that if the reconstruction of the Temple was to truly accomplish its purpose, the Israelites would have to be the ones to rebuild it. Therefore, he challenged God’s people. “Who is there among you of all his people? His God be with him.”

Over the past 9 years, I have seen signs posted along the highways of Texas urging residents to pray for our nation. On more than one occasion, our nation has been mentioned as a prayer request during morning services.

And then there’s 2 Chronicles 7:14:

 If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.

We pray for our nation often. We pray that our nation will remain safe, prosperous, that our children and grandchildren will be able to enjoy the same lifestyles we did. More importantly, we pray that God would bring a revival in America. More than a cultural revival, we pray that God would bring a spiritual revival to America.

We’re concerned about more than American traditions. We’re concerned about the soul of America. Historically, our nation has lived by Judeo-Christian values. In recent years, it seems that society is deliberately moving away from those values.

As a result, we see the increase in drug abuse and crime, child abuse, human trafficking, moral degradation and cultural rot. The solutions to these problems cannot be legislated. These are problems that can only be solved by a revival in America. These problems can only be solved by national repentance and a renewed interest in true Christianity. We pray for this to happen.

However, this revival will only be sparked if the people of God will stand up, speak His Gospel, minister to those who hurt, and reach out to those who are lost. If we are to see a spiritual revival in America, we need a generation of Christians to rise up and unabashedly do God’s work.

So, in the words of Cyrus, “Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him.”

Rise up, reach out, and be the influence that leads your friends, family and neighbors to the Lord. Who knows? You may be the spark that ignites a revival in our country.

Leland Acker has served as the pastor of Life Point Baptist Church since its inception in 2008. Life Point meets for Sunday School at 10 a.m., Sunday Worship at 11 a.m., and meetings are held at the Early Chamber of Commerce/Small Business Incubator Facility at 104 E. Industrial Dr. in Early, TX, pending the construction of a new worship facility.

Once you realize this, your life has purpose

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I should consider it a disgrace to die a rich man.” – Andrew Carnegie

A boulevard runs through downtown Brownwood, connecting CC Woodson Drive with US Hwy. 377 South. The boulevard, which provides quick, and easy access from the outlying areas of Brownwood to downtown is named Carnegie St.

The name comes from the Carnegie Library, which was built back in the early 1900s at the corner of what is now Carnegie and Adams St. The Carnegie Library was named for Andrew Carnegie, a late 19th Century/early 20th Century industrialist who donated the money for the library’s construction.

Like many who take the journey from rags to riches, Carnegie understood that wealth was meant for more than enjoying with frivolous lifestyles. He advocated for the wealthy to invest their riches in programs that would help the poor escape poverty, such as schools, education, or in his case, libraries.

His philosophy was simple. Spend the first third of your life learning as much as you can, the middle third earning as much as you can, and the last third of your life giving as much as you can. Carnegie understood that, with wealth came responsibility. Sadly, he missed the spiritual component of that truth.

That was not the case with the emperor Cyrus, who stated in Ezra 1:2, “The Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.”

When Cyrus became the king of Persia, he became the most powerful man in the world. All of the known civilizations were under his control at the time. Those provinces he didn’t directly rule over paid him tribute for their safety and sovereignty. Cyrus owned everything.

With his rise to power came the realization that there was a purpose for it all. Cyrus understood that his power and wealth came from divine blessing, not from his own personal merit. Therefore, the Lord stirred his spirit, and brought him to the realization that his rise to power coincided with God’s will to rebuild His temple. Thus, Cyrus concludes in Ezra 1:2 that the Lord gave him all the kingdoms in the world in order for him to rebuild the temple.

Cyrus understood that God raised him to power so that he would rebuild the temple, and failure to do so would result in his reign being prematurely ended. If God blesses you with a purpose, you better follow the purpose, or lose the blessing.

Today in America, we are amazingly blessed. The poorest among us are still among the richest 40 percent of the world’s population. We enjoy fast, convenient access to a variety of foods, can generate income at will, and enjoy the convenient lifestyle afforded by modern technology.

In the third world, goods are expensive and labor is cheap, hence the low standard of living. In America, goods are cheap and labor is expensive, meaning we have more buying power than most of the rest of the world.

Why has God blessed us so?

Simple. God has blessed us so that we will use our ample resources to spread His Gospel throughout the world. This is a Biblical concept. What God gives us still belongs to Him. We merely manage it on His behalf. His will for us is that we use those blessings to further His Kingdom, which means spreading the Gospel and winning more converts.

Has God blessed you today? If so, then live your life on purpose and use those blessings to further the Gospel. You never know what great things may come from your dedication to the Lord.

Leland Acker has served as the pastor of Life Point Baptist Church since its inception in 2008. Life Point meets for Sunday School at 10 a.m., Sunday Worship at 11 a.m., and meetings are held at the Early Chamber of Commerce/Small Business Incubator Facility at 104 E. Industrial Dr. in Early, TX, pending the construction of a new worship facility. 

The Soul Stirring

cropped-wp_20140810_002.jpgPastor Joey Gilbert pastors a small church in southern Mississippi. At first glance, his role at Bayside Baptist Church may not seem that unique. Like many pastors, he preaches, drives a church van to pick up kids for Sunday School, and ministers to his congregation. It’s a scene similar to that of many small congregations across America, until you learn that Pastor Gilbert lives 1,000 miles away in Carnesville, Ga., a small town 75 miles northeast of Atlanta, where he works as a land surveyor.

Bi-vocational pastors of small congregations struggle to make ends meet, and to meet the increasing demands on their time, yet Gilbert maintains the work, life, ministry balance across a distance of three states and two time zones. In a time when pastors are leaving the ministry in record numbers due to burnout, Gilbert keeps going. Why?

“If you came on a Sunday, and met the members and the kids, you’d understand,” Gilbert told MSN.

Gilbert’s soul was stirred for Bayside Baptist Church after providing Vacation Bible School for the kids after Hurricane Katrina. Upon learning that their pastor was leaving, Gilbert was moved to help. His continued devotion (he’s been serving as their pastor for 17 months) is no doubt driven by his love for the people of the church, and by the stirring the Lord has done in his soul.

When God stirs the souls of men, great things happen. In Ezra 1, the Persian emperor Cyrus ordered the Israelites to return to Jerusalem and to rebuild the Temple. His order marked the end of the Jewish exile, begun after they were conquered by the Babylonian empire as God’s judgment for centuries of idolatry. God’s chastisement of his people complete, it was time to send them home. God stirred the spirit of Cyrus to make that happen.

In Ezra 1:1-2, the Bible says:

Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.

Notice what scripture said. “The Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus.” When that happened, Cyrus set his heart to obey the Lord by ordering the rebuilding of the Temple, which necessitated the return of the people to Jerusalem. So, he ordered it.

This order led to the rebuilding of the Temple, a revival in Israel, and the starting of the 70 weeks prophesied by Daniel that God would use to bring about the final redemption of His people. God stirred the spirit of a man, and great things happened.

As we begin a new year, let’s focus our desires on seeing great things happen for God. For those great things to happen, God will need to revive our hearts. Let’s pray that God stirs our spirits, and that He stirs the spirits of others to make these great things happen.

By doing so, we’ll learn to depend on Him for the revival we desire to see in our nation, and we’ll lean less on our own power and understanding.

Leland Acker has served as the pastor of Life Point Baptist Church since its inception in 2008. Life Point meets for Sunday School at 10 a.m., Sunday Worship at 11 a.m., and meetings are held at the Early Chamber of Commerce/Small Business Incubator Facility at 104 E. Industrial Dr. in Early, TX, pending the construction of a new worship facility.